What in the world is going on with the Wayne Hills HS football program over in NJ?
For those of you in NJ who already follow HS football, chances are you already know the story. But for everyone else, let me see if I can summarize this briefly.
The Wayne Hills football team — which is a large high school and a perennial powerhouse in the state – finished their regular season with a record of 8-1, and were seeded number one in their New Jersey HS playoff bracket in North 1, Group 4.
Three of their better players happen to be brothers – the Hayak brothers – and they had transferred from St. Joe’s to Wayne Hills in the fall of 2015 – over a year ago. They claim that they filed the appropriate residency paperwork with the school district before they played for Wayne Hills last year. That’s what you’re supposed to do when transferring, and the three boys did in fact play.
Fast forward to this season. Wayne Hills goes 8-1, and the three brothers are an integral part of the team’s success.
But earlier this week, an investigation by the NJ Scholastic Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), based on a tip that came from the Wayne Hills school superintendent, it was concluded by the NJSIAA that these kids had violated the residency rules and were immediately ruled ineligible. You should know that in NJ, the superintendent is obliged to report any suspected wrongdoing to the NJSIAA, which is what the superintendent did.
You should also know that the superintendent also overseas Wayne Valley in HS in the same town, and Wayne Valley and Wayne Hills are bitter rivals. As one caller suggested this AM, there are strong rumors that somebody from Wayne Valley blew the whistle on the three Wayne Hills players.
Regardless, the NJSIAA edict had an immediate and devastating impact. Because the three football players were ruled to be ineligible, that meant all the victories this year were now thrown out and the entire season was to be forfeited. And of course, with no wins, there are no playoffs.
Outraged, the parents of the Wayne Hills football team challenged this ruling through legal action, and on Thursday, just a couple of days after their season had been forfeited, the ruling was overturned by the Commissioner of Education in NJ.
Why? The Commissioner of Education in NJ said that the kids and their family weren’t given enough of an opportunity to make their case — in effect, there was a lack of due process here, and thus the forfeits were suspended – at least temporarily.
As a result, Wayne Hills returns to playing football, plays its first playoff game on Nov. 19th assuming that this new ruling isn’t overturned in the next week or so. That final ruling will be handed down this coming Tuesday, once the Hayak family has a chance to show their residency paperwork.
As you might imagine, there is lots and lots of emotion on this unusual case. Video shows angry parents yelling and screaming at school officials. And of course, those parents feel vindicated that they got the initial ruling overturned.
But still, we’ll have to wait and see what happens next.
As Patrick Lanni, sports writer for NJ.com said on my show this AM, there are all sorts of other impacts this mess with Wayne Hills is having. For one, all the other HS teams in the playoffs have had to immediately do a re-set on their game preparation because the teams they thought they were playing have now all changed. And that could all change again depending what happens this coming week when a final decision is handed down.
SOME QUESTIONS REMAIN
Every state has its own rules and regulations regarding athletes who transfer. But in the sports hot bed of NJ, in my opinion, there tend to be all sorts of questions and loopholes, and questions remain:
Why not make the residency rules as tight as possible, so that athletes are less tempted to make a move.
There needs to an effective way in which to check on these athletes to make sure they are, in fact, living legally within the school district.
There needs clarification on rules regarding kids living with a divorced parent in town….or if they are living in town with a member of an extended family, such as an uncle….or a legal guardian…or whether the kid is living in a rented apartment so he or she can attend that school.
And in this case, why is this challenge to these three brothers being brought up now? The facts are clear they have been in Wayne Hills all of this year and last year as well, and nobody protested. Shouldn’t there be some sort of statute of limitations on this?
In any event, theoretically, all of this will be resolved this coming Tuesday afternoon. Stay tuned….we live in interesting times.